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REVIEW
RECORDING OF THE MONTH
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Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Organ Works
Sonata for Organ in G Major (1895) [27.18]
Nimrod from Enigma Variations (transcribed by W.H. Harris) (1898-99) [3.56]
Prelude to The Kingdom (transcribed by A. Herbert Brewer) (1901-06) [9.43]
Gavotte (transcribed by Edwin H. Lemare) (1885) [5.50]
Vesper Voluntaries (1889-90) [21.43]
Benjamin Nicholas (organ)
rec. Dobson organ, Merton College Chapel, Oxford, 25-26 June 2015
DELPHIAN DCD34162 [68.33]

Merton College’s new Dobson organ was designed as an essentially English Romantic instrument with ‘considerable versatility’. The CD’s blurb continues with the boast that it has a: ‘… a big warm-hearted personality, securely grounded in the aesthetic traditions of the late nineteenth century … this recording highlights those qualities in music by the composer who pre-eminently shares them: Edward Elgar.’ I would not disagree with that assertion especially with Benjamin Nicholas’s proudly assertive and delicately sensitive readings. These have impressed me more than any others since Donald Hunt’s fine 1984 recording now available on Alto ALC1313 (previously Regis).

Nicholas opens Elgar’s Sonata for Organ in G major in grandiose majesty and imposing swell. This movement has magnificence and memorable melody in Elgar’s grand nobilmente manner. The following Allegretto is equally outstanding but in contrast to the opening Allegro maestoso movement, it has a delicacy and a serenity that verges on the angelic. The succeeding two movements’ inspiration sags somewhat in comparison yet the Andante espressivo third has a noble elegiac quality with a tranquil second subject that appeals. The extrovert Presto (comodo) finale is jolly and jaunty and the coda is mighty.

The other major work here is the Vesper Voluntaries; the title is not Elgar’s but that of the firm that commissioned a book of short organ pieces, thought to be useful for church services as Offertory Music, Interludes or Voluntaries. Most contributors were ‘third-rate’ jobbing composers much less talented than Elgar. His attractive pieces went out of print and only resurfaced with the appearance of a modern edition in 1987. Nicholas reveals their undeniable stature in compelling readings. The opening Introduction: Adagio is imposing and arresting and might well be employed as a splendid processional; equally the concluding Poco allegro – Coda could constitute a grand recessional with the organ continuing its progress after the clergy have closed the door into the vestry. In between there are other delights amongst the eight voluntaries. I would mention especially the lovely memorable little tune of the delightful Poco lento, the consolatory Allegro and the imposing march that is the Allegretto pensoso voluntary.

Of the shorter works completing the album, there is a heart-warming arrangement of Nimrod from the Enigma Variations, an entertaining Gavotte and Herbert Brewer’s transcription of the Prelude to The Kingdom. The marvellous melody that Elgar uses for Peter’s aria in the Pentecost scene is highlighted and is movingly played by Nicholas.

The recording is detailed with every nuance, every pianissimo and swell, warmly captured.

Ian Lace

 

 




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